‘I rest my pen here, for a moment. I have time to decide’

BOOK: Drawing from the City

AUTHOR based on the oral stories of Tejubehan

(Original Tamil text: Saalai Selvam; English text: V Geetha & Gita Wolf)


PRICE: Rs 750

YEAR: 2012/13 

Pa also sings for a living. He leaves early in the morning, going from house to house, singing songs about God, love, pain and happiness
Amit Sengupta Delhi 

They call me Teju. Here I am, as a little girl in our village. I feel at home indoors as well as outdoors, and my favourite place is near the stream that runs behind our hut. Our village is green at times. But, often, when the summer is hot, it is baked brown. The fields are empty and the stream dries into a cracked bed. Our house is tiny. All of us have to work for all of us to eat. It’s not just us. Everyone around us lives like we do…

…They say the poor have nowhere to go. I’m not sure. When people don’t have enough to eat, they take the train to the city, to find work. A railway line runs through the edge of the forest. If you walk along the tracks for about five miles, you come to the station. A train runs faster than any animal or bird I know. I like to stand at the edge of the forest and watch the trains as they rush past…

…And then it does happen. We find ourselves at the station one busy night, waiting for a train. The station is a crowded place… A red hot summer has passed, and after two months, there is still no sign of rain. Clouds of dust settle on our hair and clothes… We are hungry and thirsty. Ma has grown thin, since she gives us what there is, and does not eat herself. I am a big girl now, nearly 13, so I understand how bad things are. We have to travel to find work, to be able to eat. So I am ready to go, but not like this. Not with a wan group of people with big bundles and worried eyes….

But those tall buildings are not for us. We move on, right to the edge of the city, and begin to build homes for ourselves. They are not made of mud or bricks, but of cloth, plastic and gunny bags, anything we can find. We are to live in tents now. At least we’re not alone, and we begin to make a life for ourselves as a community. And it is here, in our ragged tent city, that I grow up…

…I watch big graceful birds that move silently through the sky… I decide now to draw a bird, but an iron one, large and complicated… But even in the plane, my women are not content to sit still. So I float them down, wondering where they should go next. Should they fly forever like birds?..... 

This book is dedicated to the memory of GaneshbhaiJogi, beloved husband of singer and artist Tejubehan. News of his passing came in just when this book was being completed. Ganesh and Teju, born in Rajasthan, belonged to a community that wandered the streets, singing devotional songs. But life was tough, and this art form too declined. They travelled far and wide, as migrant workers, working hard, living in sub-human conditions, unable to comprehend the impersonal and ruthless city, staying in tents and makeshift shelters at construction sites; but stoic, silent, creative and resilient. Their songs, lyrics and music remained embedded in their aesthetic subconscious.

In Drawing from the City, Teju discovers her innate talent as an artist. She draws and writes about her journey since childhood, and then with Ganesh, a celebration of great creative realism and dreams, and a flight of imagination.

From the hard, invisible margins of the philosophy of poverty, to the brilliant, expressed margins of a sublime black and white page, drawn by a genius.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2013